Electoral Offences Commission Bill passes second reading

A Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission passed second reading yesterday in the Senate.

Senator representing Borno North, Abubakar Shaib Kyari in his lead debate said the Bill ”seeks adequate deterrence and punishment for electoral offenders.”

Senator Kyari noted that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission needed to be relieved of what he called the needless burden of prosecuting electoral offences.

Senator Kyari said the Bill has become increasingly important towards sanitisation of the electoral process as he noted that ”electoral offences give birth to the apathy that forces the electorate to withdraw from the electoral process.”

The Bill prescribes a term of fifteen years imprisonment or a fine of N40,000,00 for anyone who tampers with ballot boxes, papers and other election materials.

According to the bill, ”no candidate or agent of his or any other person shall grab, loot, damage or destroy in any manner ballot boxes or ballot papers or any other electoral document or material, before, during and after an election, or take or attempt to take or cause to be taken ballot boxes or ballot papers or any other electoral document or material before, during and after an election without the permission of election official in charge of the election at a polling station.”

If passed into law, it ”seeks an imprisonment of twenty years without an option of a fine for a Judicial officer or officer of a Court or Tribunal who is found guilty of corruptly perverting electoral justice, before, during and after election and if he directly or indirectly receives or accepts for himself or for any other person or on behalf of other persons, any money, gift, loan, property, valuable consideration, office, place, employment or appointment, or promise of personal enrichment for the purpose of giving, rendering, procuring or directing a Judicial decision in favour of or against a particular person or party in an election petition or any matter relating to an election conducted pursuit to the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

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The Bill equally made it compulsory for candidates at an election to submit a statement of expenses to the Commission at most Six months after the election and the statement shall be in form to be prescribed by the Commission from time to time.
Senators in their individual contributions spoke in support of the Bill.

Senator representing Osun central, Ajibola Bashiru, said the Commission was necessary to inspire public confidence in the electoral process.

He said: ”We must reform our electoral system. The basis of a democratic process is an election. In an atmosphere where an election is won through inducement and intimidation, it can’t be said that the process was free. There must be sanity of the electoral process. If you don’t have a sanitised process, there will be apathy and people can’t be said to be involved.”

He, however, called for speedy trial of electoral offenders.

Former Deputy Senate president and senator representing Enugu West, Ike Ekweremadu said lawmakers should crave for an election offences tribunal as recommended by the Justice Uwais Committee and not a Commission.

”It makes sense for us to punish electoral offenders. For over ten years, there has been an ongoing debate for a tribunal to try offenders. It has suffered a setback because of the bureaucracy in our system. Suggestions have been made to allow the federal high court to try offenders.

”In case of the tribunal, for it to have power, we must amend the Constitution. But that will take time.

” We must be wary in setting up a commission but a tribunal as recommended by the Uwais Committee. I agree that if we don’t punish offenders, impunity will continue but we must have a body that we must be proud of. Let us have a public hearing, subject it to vigorous debate devoid of sentiments. We must align ourselves with the best practices.”

Senator Adamu Aliero raised the alarm that the nation’s democracy was under threat as a result of impunity by those who perpetrate electoral fraud.

”If we don’t do that, perhaps our democracy will be jeopardised. We don’t care about the laws, we do things with impunity. The only way we can deal with this is this Commission. Those who win elections through violence embarrass us before the international community.”

In his closing remarks, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, thanked lawmakers for making meaningful contributions to the debate. He referred the Bill to the Senate Committee on INEC led by former Kano state governor, Senator Kabiru Gaya to report back in four weeks.

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